The buying cycle is a familiar concept: a user recognizes they have a need and sets out to find a solution which culminates in the purchase of a product of service. While many variations of the exact names of the stages exist, the cycle generally follows an easily recognizable format, like the one outlined in the image below.
As potential customers enter each stage of the buying cycle, what they need and want changes — from a simple confirmation that their need analysis is on the right track to cold hard data about your product — so, it’s safe to say a one-size fits all content strategy won’t get you very far.
By mapping content to each stage of the buying cycle, marketers are able to provide a custom-fit journey for each of their target personas, providing a more positive user experience, and increasing the impact of their marketing message.
So, what does the user want (—) and need! — at each stage of the journey?
The buying cycle kicks off when a consumer recognizes a problem that needs to be solved. At this stage, your potential customer is more likely to be googling broad terms around their top concerns to identify their key need. This is where your more high-level, thought leadership content will come in handy. Identify yourself as an expert in your field and produce content that speaks to their need, answers questions and provides legitimate value without asking for anything in return — yet.
Once need recognition has occurred, the research stage begins. Through this process, the potential customer is looking for the best way to meet their need. Can they fix the problem themselves? Do they need a product or service? Will this be a one-time purchase or a recurring engagement?
Here, you want content that describes the problem they’re facing and provides ideas for concrete solutions. If your business serves multiple personas, be sure you’re mapping content to each of them. Be specific. The reader should feel like you’re talking right to them, and that you understand them — because you do!
Now the customer is comparing your product or service to your competitors. This is where your unique selling proposition can really shine. Your content strategy will be crucial to standing out from the pack. Your content at this stage needs to focus on why you’re the best. Show, don’t tell, through case studies, testimonials, reviews and any other user-generated content you can provide. Providing as much unbiased content as possible during this stage is important, as consumers trust their peers more than brands. Partnering with trusted third party sites, like ConsumerAffairs can help drive trust with shoppers in the comparison stage.
A customer is ready to buy — and they’ve chosen to do business with your company. Score! You’re ready to put a check in the success column, right? Not quite yet. With “shopping cart abandonment” rates as high as 78%, a keen focus on conversion optimization is critical, regardless of industry. Focus on the user experience. Always make your call-to-action clear and easy. Creating as little friction in the experience as possible for your consumers will help to drive higher conversion rates.
The buying cycle doesn’t stop after purchase. Your customer service and support teams tend to carry the brunt of driving customer satisfaction, but it shouldn’t all fall on them. Continued education through blogs, newsletters, webinars or podcasts, and engagement on social media platforms allows marketing to continue to play a large role in the process, helping to create long-lasting relationships and increase brand sentiment even after the sale.